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Jan 10, 2016 News
“My father was not supportive of my singing, he wanted me to be this bravado-kind of man, to show this kind of machoism…Not a singer! He wanted me to become a doctor… But Music was the love of my soul.”
By Suraj Narine
While versed in the art of warfare, Sergeant First Class (SFC) Retired United States Army Veteran, Albert Joseph Bentick, is an established Opera Singer and tutor – and so happens to be this week’s Special Person.
Our Singing Sergeant was born in Carmichael Street Georgetown, on the 3rd of March 1953. Bentick came from a humble home, where his mother was a dedicated housewife, while his father worked at the Milk Pasteurisation Plant in Kingston. He is the sixth of nine children.
Sadly, his father passed away in 1977. His mother, now 92-years-old along with him, resides in Brooklyn, New York.
After graduating from Christ Church Secondary, Bentick began teaching at Grove Primary on the East Bank of Demerara, he then moved on to the Teachers’ Training College (now Cyril Potter College of Education). He also taught at St. Stanislaus College and the Comenius Primary School as the Music Master. He later served as the Secretary of the Georgetown Basketball Association and Treasurer of the Ravens Basketball Club.
Serving the United States Army for some 27 years, Bentick was the recipient of six Army Commendation Medals, three army achievement medals, two Army Good Conduct Medals, the Award of the Armed Forces Reserved Medal, the Award of the Army Reserve Achievements Medals, Korea Defence Service Medal, National Defence Service Medal Ribbon, Driver Rifle and Grenade Badges and Marksman Badges.
He has visited Guyana 29 times in 31 years and although serving on foreign soil, he emphasises that he still sticks to his roots and will forever cling to his “Dear Guyana”.
IN PURSUIT OF THE LOVE OF HIS SOUL
Though his father was never supportive of his singing, Bentick never lost sight of who he was and who he wanted to be.
“My father was not supportive of my singing, he wanted me to be this bravado-kind of man, to show this kind of machoism…Not a singer! He wanted me to become a doctor… But Music was the love of my soul,” he said chuckling.
Although he loved teaching, his thirst could not be satisfied, so he left Guyana in 1984 at age 31, where he journeyed to the United States, in search of the love of his soul; to pursue his dreams of becoming a singing sensation.
In the US, he began studying the piano and one day, an instructor noticed “a certain something” in his voice that she encouraged him to develop. He subsequently applied to the Brooklyn College where he studied various forms of music such as Medieval, Romanticism Renaissance, Baroque and Classical.
Among some achievements, Bentick holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Music (BMus) majoring in Voice, a Music Canada Certificate, Piano and Voice Theory Certificates.
He was also the leader of the Daniel’s Circle Gospel choir that won the Chief of Chaplain’s Trophy in 1993, defeating 1049 entrances.
BE ALL YOU CAN BE
One day he was reading a newspaper when he saw an advertisement saying “Be All You Can Be” and it struck him like a bolt of lightning.
Before he knew it, he was walking into the Recruitment Centre, he subsequently took the oath of enlistment and attended a nine-week Basic Combat Training (BCT) at Fort Knox, Kentucky in 1986.
He was mobilised four times and conducted one tour of Iraq. He was also deployed once to Korea.
His worst experience in the Army, he said, was a “little friction” between himself and the Platoon Sergeant in Korea where he spent more than a year.
“…He was trying to get at me because I stood up for Standards and he couldn’t understand me as a foreigner, he was always trying to be a little nosy and then when you look at things under the privacy act of 1974, he was not supposed to see what someone else was being paid in terms of their LES (Leave and Earnings Statement) and he wanted to see how much I was getting paid and we had a battle over that” he said.
In 1994, Bentick got out of the active Army and joined the Reserve, changing his military occupational specialty from personnel administration specialist to petroleum supply specialist where he had to escort conveys of fuel – from drop off to base.
When not on deployment or singing, Bentick worked as a special education teacher at an intermediate high school.
“THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER” AND “THE TRUMPET SHALL SOUND”
At BCT, a few other Soldiers in the barracks were singing the National Anthem and he began chiming in when a drill sergeant overheard him.
“He thought it was one of the American soldiers, I was immediately chosen to sing the National Anthem at Graduation” Bentick said.
It was Easter Sunday of 1986 at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana, when he was once again called upon to sing however, this time in the presence of several Generals, a congressman and a special assistant to the president, accompanied by the 74th Army Band.
“I was heard (singing) by then army commander Colonel Andrew Tinker. I was singing ‘The Trumpet Shall Sound’: Handel’s Messiah, with a trumpeter and pianist. He immediately sent the Battalion Commander to find out who I was. I was immediately drafted in with an audition to sing for the Association of the United States Army Dinner at the Hilton Hotel in Indianapolis, at which the guest speaker was the then National Security Advisor to then President Ronald Reagan, Admiral John Poindexter,” Bentick recounted.
Bentick was inspired by the legendary Leontyne Price – whom he got a chance to meet – on the evening of her retirement from opera at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.
He has also met several other opera sensations such as Simon Estes, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa James Devine and Denyce Graves.
“As Shakespeare said, “If music be the food of love, play on. It’s a language,” Bentick said. “You are transforming inner feelings to people, those who can understand, those who wish to learn, and those who can get some satisfaction out if it.”
Faced with the question of future plans, Bentick stated that he along with other recognised songsters would be in “stand-by mode” to lend assistance to musicians and performers scheduled to entertain during the 50th Anniversary Celebrations this year.
Though he said that he was not formally invited, he would make himself available to his country in this time of celebration. Along with himself, he also said that popular names like Avis Joseph and Leila Persaud will also be coming to assist.
Bentick plans to return full time to Guyana someday and impart his knowledge of music to the Guyanese populace, since certain “avenues” have become available.
“Now since the establishment of the Guyana School of Music which is a good move by the Government, music will now be more accessible to anyone once they have the inclination for music. Years gone by you had music which was only available to a privileged few…Ordinary people could not afford it, but now children will be more exposed to it and at a young age, they will grow with it” he said.
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